Why You Shouldn’t Call POC “Exotic”

One of the lovely and lively things that George Mason University has to offer is the inevitable feeling of diversity and community on and around campus. Located in the heart of Northern Virginia, Mason is home to many different cultures, ethnic backgrounds and races, making it so easy to learn more about the world that surrounds us. Although this is a great way to appreciate others and their ways of life, this is only possible if we know how to properly interact with those who are different to ourselves.

Out of sheer decency, it should be a known fact that you shouldn’t define a person by their identity. But sadly, nowadays, common sense isn’t so common anymore. Society now has a system of sorting that divides us into categories and groups, creating this differentiating, and sometimes deprecating, divide within one another. When young, we are all taught to treat everyone the same and how we would like to be treated in return-- but one question that compels me now is: where in the midst of growing up did some lose this concept? And if this idea was hard to translate into adulthood, why? After some time, I realized that these misunderstandings arise simply because of the ignorance some inhibit towards others’ identities.

As a person of color, I was always very aware of the differences between my friends, acquaintances, peers and I. But the physical differences between them and I never once crossed my mind as something bad or even competitive. It wasn’t until middle school that I was made aware of the several thoughts others had on my physical appearance and quite frankly, it made me feel marginalized. Suddenly, I was informed that although my tanned skin was something other’s, at the time, culturally desired-- it was eventually going to be the only thing they saw me for. I began to see a trend in how others would address this infatuation, and a common term they would use to excuse it was “exotic.” Peers and others in passing would recognize me and say “wait, you’re from Peru? That so exotic, I love it!” and I literally wouldn’t know how to react to them. The input of the beginning of that last sentence was confusing to me and how it pertained to what we could've been talking about and I, typically, let my discomfort go unknown.

I realized that some people, when not knowing how to interact with others to whom they are different, can sometimes get in their head about how they address or go about the differences they see and therefore, it could lead them to bluntly communicate the differences in a weird, sophisticated way (when usually, they didn't need to address it at all).

Related: 20 Things You Should Never Say to a Latina

Then, there was a different side that I got more familiar with in high school. The fetishization of my ethnicity and how that influenced how others would interact with me, or moreover, a person like me. The romanticization of being with a “latina” was always brought up to me and how it would either help or hurt my future relationships. “Latina women are wild and sexy,” I was told, and time and time again I was just very dumbfounded as to why ‘Chad’ was telling me about my ethnic identity. But what angered me most was when the comments progressed to sound like my ethnic group were mere objects for others’ impressions. The word “exotic” categorizes and demeans an ethnic group and causes any type of individualism in that particular group to cease. Another aspect that began to bother me was that my culture was now up for grabs to society. My culture, body and sole being became tangible by a word and it was acceptable because society deemed it sexy or cute. The aspects of my culture people liked, they exploited. But the remainder of what was left, they demonized.

Let us not be partial and see the heart of others for who they are, what they contribute and celebrate them for their differences. There is no need to compete with one another because we are different. Rather, let us use our differences to show us different perspectives on issues, understand one another by them and better our society because of them.